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Mars Curiosity Rover - Mars Science Laboratory

Robot Chemist and Geologist Looks for Life


This is a look at some of the scientific equipment on the Mars Curiosity Rover.

This is a look at some of the scientific equipment on the Mars Curiosity Rover. Curiosity picks up where other rovers left off, looking much more closely at rock and soil samples for organic molecules.

The Mars Curiosity Rover is a mobile science lab. Its essentially a robot chemist and geologist that will analyze samples to determine whether Mars has life or whether it supported life in the past. This Rover picks up where its predecessors left off. It isn't just looking for water! Curiosity will take a close look at samples, to determine whether Martian soil contains organic molecules that are associated with microbial life. Here's a look at the equipment on Curiosity and some of the tests Curiosity can perform.
  • Robot Arm

    A distinctive feature of Curiosity is its robot arm. The arm extends about 7 feet (2 meters). At the end of the arm, there is a drill and a sieve, so Curiosity can obtain hard-to-get samples or filter its specimens. More than any other Rover, Curiosity will reach out and touch Martial soil and rocks, bringing in samples for a closer look. The Rover can send photographs of samples back to Earth or can perform numerous tests.

  • Robot Head with Laser Eyes

    The Rover's "head" extend about 6.9 feet (2.1 meters) and supports a normal high-def stereo color camera/video camera (MastCam) and also a laser that can vaporize a sample from 23 feet (7 meters) away and then determine its elemental composition based on what it sees. The laser/camera combination is named ChemCam.

  • REMS

    Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) is Curiosity's weather station. Weather forecasts will help Curiosity steer clear of Martian storms and may help the Rover identify points of interest for exploration.

  • Cameras, Cameras, Cameras

    Curiosity has 17 cameras, capable of photographing samples across the spectrum.

  • APXS

    Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer. This instrument, located on Curiosity's "hand", identifies the chemical elements in rocks.

  • CheMin

    CheMin is short for "Chemistry and Mineralogy". This is an analytical instrument located in the body of Curiosity that applies X-ray diffraction and fluorescence to analyze the mineral composition of samples. These minerals can include those that would form as a result of exposure to water.

  • SAM

    SAM is short for Sample Analysis at Mars. SAM is another instrument in Curiosity's body. This one detects organic molecules, which are considered to be the building blocks of carbon-based life, using a mass spectrometer, a gas chromatograph, and laser spectrometer.


    The Mars Hand Lens Imager or MAHLI is a focusable camera that takes color photos of objects as small as 12.5 microns across.

  • DAN

    DAN is short for Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons. This is an active/passive neutron spectrometer designed to search for water and ice up to 2 meters below the Martian surface. DAN fires a beam of neutrons into the soil and times their return speed. The premise here is that the return rate is changed if the beam encounters water in any form.

  • RAD

    RAD is the Radiation Assessment Detector, which will characterize the nature and amount of radiation on the surface of Mars. Data from RAD will help plan future unmanned and manned missions, keeping equipment and people safe from solar radiation, cosmic radiation and ambient radiation from the Martian atmosphere and soil.

  • Mobile Lab

    The Rover isn't tied to one place. If Curiosity sees an area it wishes to explore more closely, it can simply relocate.

  • Telecommunications Array

    There isn't much point in collecting data if it doesn't make it back to Earth! Curiosity has a complex communications array that will relay its findings to Earth's Deep Space Network via the Mars Orbiters.

Why Is Mars Red?
Why the Mars Curiosity Mission Is Important
How To Watch the Curiosity Mission

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